First, prep yourself a clean workspace. This can be a dining room table, a cleared-off desk—just any surface big enough for your case to lay flat on its side, with ample room around it for the rest of your components. You’ll also need a Phillips-head screwdriver that will fit the screws on your case. When you put these parts together, be sure to discharge any static buildup and work on a nonmetallic surface like a wood table. Or you could just assemble the motherboard on top of the cardboard box it comes in.
Most of the components you bought are going to come with instruction manuals; keep them handy. We’re going to start with the motherboard, so open up the instruction manual to the installation page. It can be pretty intimidating—there’s a lot to look at—but think of all this as a big Lego set. Each piece fits into each other piece. For the motherboard, your first job is going to be seating your CPU.
Installing Your CPU
Depending on what kind of CPU you purchased (Intel or AMD), the chip will have either little prongs on one side (don’t touch them) or little golden contacts on one side (don’t touch them). Seriously, don’t touch that side of your chip. Oils from your fingertips can damage the contacts, or you might bend a pin. Do either one and your processor becomes nothing more than an expensive hunk of silicon.
Seating your processor is pretty easy. First, double-check your motherboard’s instructions and make sure you’ve unlocked the processor socket. It’ll be a big square with a bunch of little holes (or contacts), with a lever or button beside it. Your motherboard’s instructions will say explicitly how to unlock the socket so you can put your processor in without any issues.
Once you’ve confirmed that it’s unlocked and ready, just find which corner of your processor has a little golden triangle and line it up with the same symbol on your motherboard’s processor socket. Gently lower the processor into the socket, then gently flip the latch or locking mechanism. You shouldn’t have to fight it. If you have to press really hard, double-check that the processor is socketed correctly.
Next, you’re going to need your thermal paste. That little tiny plastic syringe of silvery goo is very important for this next step. Now that your processor is seated, take a look at the shiny square of silicon in the center of it. That’s where your heat sink is going to sit. Your processor came with a heat sink, and on one side of it, you’ll see a copper circle. You’re going to be putting the heat sink directly on top of the processor after we apply the thermal paste, with the silicone square and the copper circle lining up perfectly.
Go ahead and carefully squeeze a tiny ball (no bigger than a pea) of thermal paste onto the silicon square on your processor. You’ll want it as close to the center as you can get.
Now line up your heat sink with the screws surrounding your processor, and gently lower it into place. You’re gonna squish the thermal paste, and the goal here is to create a thin layer covering the back of your processor. It’s OK if it oozes a little bit, but if it oozes out and over the edge of the processor, you used too much. Get some isopropyl alcohol, dab it on a lint-free wipe, and wipe the processor and heat sink. Wait till they’re thoroughly dry and try again.
If it looks all right, screw your heat sink into place. Flip back to your motherboard instruction book and find the right place near the processor socket to plug in your heat sink’s cooling fan. It should be very close to your processor socket. Once you’ve found it, plug it in—congratulations, you just installed a CPU. This was the hardest part, and it’s over, good job.
Installing Your Storage and Memory
Memory is maybe the easiest thing to install. See those vertical little sockets beside the CPU? Line up your sticks of RAM and slot them in, starting from the left-hand slot. They’ll lock into place once you’ve seated them properly. If you have two sticks of RAM, make sure to skip a slot between them. Your motherboard manual should say which slots to use.